I lead Bible studies for the women at our local jail, and during the course of my ministry, I have come to the conclusion that most of the women there have been abused in some way, whether physically, verbally, or sexually. Some have experienced all these forms of abuse.
We expect that in a jail. Of course those things happen coming from a setting like theirs, we think. Harder to identify and admit is abuse that happens within our own ranks, with people we know and expect to trust. Abuse in the church? God forbid! But abuse in the church or among church members does happen. Because it so often remains shrouded in silence, the extent of it can be difficult to gauge.
Sexual abuse especially is a subject we as conservative Anabaptists almost never talk about in a public setting. I believe this is to the detriment of those we are trying to protect. Abuse, like a mushroom, grows in shaded places, on the underside of things.
Trudy Harder Metzger was a child victim of sexual abuse in her Old Colony/conservative Mennonite family. Today she counsels sexual abuse victims among the conservative Mennonites, as well as other groups. She states, “I would suggest that the numbers are higher in ‘closed culture’ churches…because there is no accountability and less conversation/education, not to mention a lot of opportunity (close relationships and frequent interactions).” Metzger says that in her experience, rates of abuse are high in congregations where authority figures control and dominate. In congregations where authorities allow a greater interchange of ideas and where there is an effort to teach about abuse, the rate seems to decline.
Ninety percent of children who are sexually abused know their abuser.1 This is true in Anabaptist settings as well as any others. As I grow older and more familiar with the topic of sexual abuse, stories of adults in my life who have been impacted by it trickle down to me. One Mennonite man I know was abused as a child by his parents’ hired man, another by an older boy at school. One young girl was touched inappropriately by her grandpa, and another grandpa molested a number of his grandchildren. Traditionally, we have taught children to beware of strangers. More realistically, it is time for us to acknowledge and take action on the fact that the stranger is most often found within.
National statistics indicate that one out of ten children are sexually abused, but only about a third of those children will tell someone. Of the children who talk, many tell a close friend rather than an adult.1 Children might not speak because, even though they do not like what is happening to them, they do not realize it is abnormal or they do not visualize an authority as being able to help them. Often, they are groomed to believe the abuse is normal, that it is their fault, or that they will be hurt if they talk about it.2
Therefore, knowledge is an important protection we can give our children. Teachers in an Anabaptist school setting are not expected to give sex education. Such education, rightfully, should come from the home. However, a public discussion on how children should handle sexual abuse if it does occur would be a tremendous help to children who may otherwise not know what to do in an uncomfortable situation.
Consider holding such a discussion at the beginning of a school year. It is a good idea to let students know that if they are inappropriately touched or exposed to inappropriate material, they should tell an adult immediately. Let them know it is okay to scream and kick and run if they are ever sexually assaulted. Especially, let them know that you are trustworthy and that they don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed to talk to you about any sexual issues that arise. Although this can feel like an awkward subject, a thoughtful teacher can keep the discussion comfortable, happy, and age-appropriate. The purpose of such a discussion is to make children safe, not to worry them.
Take seriously children who tell you they have been mishandled. Children seldom invent instances of sexual abuse,3 and for an abused child who turns to an authority figure for help, to be disbelieved is extremely damaging. In that case, they lose trust twice over.4 In the rare event that a child does make up a story of sexual abuse, that child is likely dealing with deep emotional issues and should be given care, consideration, and the space to speak without being condemned.
Be aware of your state reporting laws and, in dealing with abuse, act accordingly. Throughout North America, teachers and other caretakers are mandated by law to report child abuse to authorities. In Canada and some U.S. states, this mandatory reporting extends not only to caretakers but to all adults.5,6
As teachers, we should also be discerning on how we handle the interactions between young children and older children at school. In many of our small Anabaptist schools, adolescents interact with young children at recess, and while a mix of ages is a beneficial and good preparation for real life, it is also wise to monitor those interactions to ensure that they remain healthy. Be cautious about allowing children to play unattended, and be especially wary of sending one older child out alone with several young ones.
If you are dealing with sexual abuse in school or outside of it, below is a list of resources that may help. Many of these resources were suggested to me by people more knowledgeable in the subject: John Coblentz, a pastor and former counselor who has written on the subject of sexual abuse; Estalee Martin, a counselor with Deeper Life Ministries; and Joshua Strickler of Life Counseling Ministries.
Deeper Life Ministries: “Deeper Life Ministries is an Anabaptist counseling center that strives to give Biblical discipleship to the people we serve. We work with single ladies and married people in common issues of life, such as depression, anger, bitterness, grief, and conflict in relationships.” Some of the books listed below are available from their bookstore online or by calling 614-873-1199.
Fresh Start Training Center: “Fresh Start is a long-term residential discipleship program for men (single or married) designed to address two primary issues: 1. Disciple men in their walk with God. 2. Assist men experiencing problems in relationships with people.” Fresh Start works with men who struggle with sexual sin, relational conflict, addictive behaviors, or psychiatric disorders.
Generations Unleashed: “We are committed to giving victims of sexual abuse a voice and creating a safe place to find support and healing. Generations Unleashed offers various programs to help victims of abuse and violence through the recovery process.” Generations Unleashed was founded by Trudy Metzger. To hear from her in person or to contact her with questions, you can also visit her blog.
Life Counseling Ministries: Their mission statement: “To provide individuals, marriages, families, and congregational leaders with Christ-centered alternatives for complex relationships and distressing problems of life through a Godly shepherding process.” Life Ministries offers both counseling and training for people from all backgrounds.
Stories of Sexual Abuse Survivors
- Between 2 Gods: A Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community by Trudy Harder Metzger
- Dorie, the Girl Nobody Loved by Doris Van Stone
- Glenda’s Story: Led by Grace by Glenda Revell
- One Man’s Story of Forgiveness (In DVD format. Available from NYM Ministries.)
- A Wildflower Grows in Brooklyn: From Striving to Thriving after Sexual Abuse and Other Trauma by Julie Woodley
Books to Aid in Understanding the Impact of Sexual Abuse
- The Spiritual Impact of Sexual Abuse by Diane Langberg
- Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Dr. Judith Hermann. (Although not written from a Christian perspective, this book is considered a classic in the study of abuse and its effects.)
Books to Aid in Healing from Sexual Abuse
- Beauty for Ashes by John Coblentz
- Door of Hope: Recognizing and Resolving the Pains of Your Past by Jan Frank
- On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Mandt Langberg
- Shattered Vows: Hope and Healing for Women Who Have Been Sexually Betrayed by Debra Laaser
- When Victims Marry by Don and Jan Frank
- The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dan Allendar and Karen Lee-Thorp
Additional Resources for Healing
- God’s Road to Recovery: Anger, Guilt, Fear by Dr. Clair Schnupp (In CD format. Available from NYM Ministries.)
- God’s Road to Recovery: Healing Inner Pain, Overcoming Shame and Contempt, Repentance and Forgiveness by Dr. Clair Schnupp (In CD format. Available from NYM Ministries.)
Books to Aid Counselors/Friends/Church Leaders of Sexual Abuse Survivors
- Caring for Survivors of Sexual Abuseby Basyle Tchividjian and Justin S. Holcomb
- Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Diane Mandt Langberg
- What the Bible Says to Abuse Survivors and Those Who Hurt Themby Victor Vieth
A Book to Aid Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse
- Sexual Offending and Restoration by Mark Yantzi
Books on Sexual Purity/Sexual Addiction
- At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry (for men) by Steve Gallagher
- Create in Me a Pure Heart (for women) by Steve and Kathy Gallagher
- Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction by Dr. Mark Laaser
- Living a Pure Life by John Coblentz
- Sexual Sanity for Men: Recreating your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White
- Finally Free: Fighting for Purity With the Power Of Grace by Heath Lambert
A Book to Aid in Teaching Children Sexual Boundaries
- My Body Is Private by Linda Walvoord Girard and Rodney Pate
- Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse. Child Sexual Abuse Statistics. Accessed 08/06/2018.
- Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Child Sexual Abuse. Accessed 08/06/2018.
- Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse. Child Sexual Abuse Statistics. Accessed 08/06/2018.
- Allender, Dan B. When Trust Is Lost: Healing for Victims of Sexual Abuse. RBC Ministries Discovery Series. Printed 2010.
- Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal. Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed 08/06/2018.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway. Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect. Accessed 08/06/2018
Editor’s note: you may also find the article below (from Lucinda’s blog) relevant.
CONTRIBUTOR: Lucinda J Miller